Around the Gymternet: It’s the F—ing Galveston Island Beach Blast

Nile Wilson

In the News

All is not well. At the start of the year, the Belgian sports network Sporza released a documentary about Nina Derwael and her teammates as they trained for Tokyo in 2020, which made it seem like “all was well” in the world of elite gymnastics (despite numerous athletes coming forward about mental and physical abuse last summer). Céline Decoster, who worked as a caretaker in the elite training hall dorms, has a different story to tell, sharing with Het Nieuwsblad everything she overheard in the dorms, and it’s pretty nightmarish. You can read an English translation here.

3-to-1 odds. Even though just last week, the IOC’s Dick Pound was going off about the Olympics probably not happening, now he’s telling the press that the odds are about “3-to-1” that the Games will take place this summer. Dick also said last week that he thinks athletes should be a priority for vaccination, but IOC President Thomas Bach says that not only should athletes not be a priority, but also that vaccines aren’t even required for athletes, though he “encourages all participants” to be vaccinated. Glad to see everyone’s not even remotely on the same page.

1600+ Brits died today, but have fun. Despite COVID-19 raging in the UK right now, the British men’s team was like, this seems like the perfect time for a cute little boys’ trip, and flew to Dubai last week for an Olympic training camp at Fly High Fitness. Though British Gymnastics promised “safety first,” the decision was heavily criticized in the media as being non-essential during UK’s nationwide lockdown. “They could have all gone and bubbled up at Lilleshall if they really needed to train together,” said Nicole Pavier, a Team England gymnast-turned-nurse. “While traveling around the world, only one of them has to test positive to spread it.”

Everything changes. Russia announced the national teams for 2021 yesterday, and most notably, Daria Spiridonova and Elena Eremina are no longer on it, nor is Ksenia Klimenko. According to Valentina Rodionenko, these gymnasts simply aren’t at the national team level anymore, which Eremina addressed on Instagram as being related to her body just not being able to handle the intensity of the training (though she hopes to continue competing). Also notable? Aliya Mustafina and Maria Paseka are on the senior reserve team. Mustafina hasn’t attended any camps as a gymnast since 2019, but she has no plans to retire and is currently working as a junior team coach at Round Lake.

A legend leaves us. Over the weekend, Muriel Davis Grossfeld, a U.S. gymnastics legend, passed away at the age of 80. Grossfeld was one of the early stars in the sport for the U.S., making her Olympic debut at the age of 16 in 1956, where she helped the women’s team to ninth place while finishing 52nd all-around. She became the first U.S. woman to compete at three Olympic Games, also helping the team to ninth in 1960 and 1964, with her best individual finish 16th in floor qualifications in 1964, and she led the U.S. women to gold at the Pan American Games in 1963. She also won 18 national titles, including the all-around in 1957 and 1963, and later coached the U.S. Olympic team in 1968 and 1972, and was a judge at the 2000 Olympic Games.

Star Status

Nile Wilson retires. 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, 2015 world championships silver medalist, and five-time Commonwealth Games champion Nile Wilson announced his retirement on Instagram, also posting a YouTube video where he further explains all of his gymnastics-related injuries as the main factor for his decision. After his successful Commonwealth Games appearance in 2018, Nile missed worlds due to a finger injury, and then early in 2019, he underwent surgery on his neck, causing him to miss the entire season, though he kept training in 2020 while also opening up about his mental health struggles.

The GOAT has spoken. Simone Biles got some press this week, telling the Houston Chronicle that she’s optimistic that the Tokyo Olympics will happen this summer, but in the meantime, she’s just trying to stay positive, training six hours a day and spending time with her boyfriend and family. She confirmed that her first competition back will be the Tokyo World Cup in May if everything goes to plan, and that she’s still “playing around” with a Yurchenko double back.  The Olympic Channel also did a feature on the GOAT, where her mom commented that she’d love to see Simone continue to 2024 as a specialist, but Simone was like “my mom doesn’t know how my body feels,” adding that when she goes to Paris, she’ll “probably be there to watch.”

We love growth. We also got a little Morgan Hurd update, who told the Olympic Channel that 2020 was “unexpected,” and while she feels indifferent about the year, which obviously didn’t go the way she had hoped, she felt like she had the “opportunity to grow as a person and learn a lot of different things.” Morgan said she’s setting a lot of short-term goals for herself going into 2021. She’s still working on getting skills and endurance back, and plans on competing at the Winter Cup in February.

Live with no regrets. If you’re looking for something to keep your ears busy, Jamaica’s Tokyo Olympic qualifier Danusia Francis gave a great interview to the Empowerment & Courage podcast, where she speaks about the impact that being a college gymnast at UCLA had on her, how she found her way back to the gym after quitting in 2016, and what it was like to fight back to qualify for the Olympic Games after missing out twice before. You can also listen on Spotify and on Apple Podcasts.

MyKayla gets the all-clear. After testing positive for COVID-19 and then going to the hospital for a pneumonia diagnosis, MyKayla Skinner shared her experiences with COVID as well as an update about her condition on YouTube, telling fans that while she’s still struggling to breathe, she’s now cleared to return to gymnastics. She’ll only have about a month to get ready for the Winter Cup in February, which obviously isn’t ideal, and said that “the top four” at that meet are guaranteed to make the national team.

Baby #2! Shawn Johnson and husband Andrew East announced that a second Baby East is on the way in 2021! Shawn gave birth to daughter Drew in 2019, and she’s basically already the same size as Shawn, which makes me so happy. Congratulations to the East fam!

Meet Updates

Laurie Hernandez is really, truly back. The Winter Cup news is slowly trickling in, and we learned this week that Laurie Hernandez has marked the occasion as her return to competition for the first time in nearly five years, since she last took to the floor as a beam silver medalist in Rio. She told Twitter that if she gets 3,000 retweets, she’ll scream “FOR THE HONOR OF GRAYSKULL!” into the camera, and I think I’m looking forward to that more than any actual gymnastics.

Beach Blast Invitational. Some U.S. elite men competed at the “Galveston Island Winter Beach Blast Invitational” this weekend, which is literally the name of a Toddlers & Tiaras pageant I’m pretty sure, and basically no one wore masks or followed any social distancing rules, because why would they? Yul Moldauer won the all-around with an 85.900, followed by Allan Bower with an 83.200 for silver and Akash Modi with an 82.550 for bronze, and other standouts included Taylor Burkhart on high bar, Isaiah Drake on vault, Donnell Whittenburg on rings, and the lights completely giving up in the middle of Grant Breckenridge’s rings. Even they knew this meet was a bad idea and tried to shut it down.

Biles Invitational. There have been several U.S. invitationals so far this season, including a couple acting as qualifiers for the Nastia Liukin Cup, but this weekend will mark the first national elite qualifier at the Biles International Invitational in Spring, Texas. The junior optional qualifier and the compulsory competition will be held Thursday, January 21, while the optional qualifier for seniors and Hopes gymnasts will take place on Friday. Notable gyms expected to send gymnasts include WOGA, Twin City Twisters, Buckeye, Metroplex, and Texas Dreams.

Canada’s gone virtual. In light of COVID-19, and since Canada is freaking huge, Gymnastics Canada has decided to go virtual for Elite Canada in February. Rick at Gymnastics Coaching has all all of the details on how this will work, with video submissions allowed between Feb 3-9, while judging will take place between Feb 12-14, but it’s important to note that many top gymnasts in Canada aren’t able to train due to lockdown restrictions in some provinces, which could limit attendance even in a virtual environment.

Cancellations and changes. We’ve made a few updates to our 2021 calendar over the past week. Most notably, the Stuttgart World Cup has been canceled, and though the German federation is still hoping to host in another city, with the current lockdown, that’s not looking super likely (though Germany did announce its Bundesliga schedule, with two WAG meets to be held in the spring). Jesolo is also canceled, according to USAG’s elite calendar, but we’ve added the Russian Championships (Mar 8-14) and the Russian Cup (Jun 6-13), and we’ve also noted the change to the Top 12 league schedule, which has cut down from multiple duels held over several months to just one large team meet in March.

NCAA Corner

The Rankings. Florida held onto the top ranking after the second week of competition, with just over a tenth lead ahead of Oklahoma, while the Big Ten came to play as Michigan and Minnesota started out the season with statement meets to land in the top five.

1. Florida 197.375
2. Oklahoma 197.238
3. Michigan 197.225
4. Minnesota 197.025
5. LSU 196.913
6. Utah 196.725
7. Denver 196.600
8. Arkansas 196.488
9. Iowa 196.450
10. Alabama 196.313

A total of 37 teams have competed so far this season. Big showdowns this weekend included Florida taking down Georgia by over a point at home, Oklahoma getting a win against Utah, LSU getting a second win over Arkansas, and Ona Loper putting up the second-best AA score of the season so far with a 39.625 when Minnesota took down Iowa. Most shocking was Oregon State debuting with a loss at home with just a 191.950 after an utter meltdown on bars.

UCLA back this week. Whether UCLA could compete this season given the COVID-19 situation in Los Angeles has been up in the air, but the Bruins now finally have a schedule complete with eight regular season meets (including four at home), and will debut this weekend, hosting Arizona State. The Los Angeles Times ran a feature about what the team has been through over the past year, and what they think this new season will look like.

Emma Spence’s NCAA plans. Canadian elite and Youth Olympic Games medalist Emma Spence shared her plans to attend Nebraska late in 2020, and recently spoke to her hometown Cambridge Times about her decision, including why she chose Nebraska and how she can’t wait to actually get to see the campus in person – which she hasn’t been able to do yet due to the pandemic.

Florida is woke. Though it wasn’t covered in the broadcast, we were so proud to see coach Owen Field celebrating some of the Florida gymnasts’ decisions to kneel during the national anthem before this past weekend’s meet. Who should you stan, you ask? Nya Reed, Alex Magee, Savannah Schoenherr, Chloi Clark, and Ellie Lazzari, who explained her decision on Instagram.

The cutest tribute. A Twitter user with a keen eye (and memory?! I don’t even remember what day it is right now, let alone choreography from a decade ago) noticed that recent Arkansas transfer Abby Johnston’s ending pose choreo mirrored that of head coach Jordyn Wieber’s own Olympic routine in what is possibly the most adorable tribute ever. Just gonna cry a teeny tiny bit.

Staying Social

Casimir Schmidt’s triple pike half. I live for the Dutch men doing everything they possibly can to get injured, but ugh, they do it so well. Casimir not only lands a triple front pike half-out (off of a trampoline), but he also does it beautifully, and ends it with a stick.

Minami Kazuki’s Rudi-in back-out, front double double, and front double double half-out. I had to watch this like one billion times and I still don’t think I really even know what’s happening, but anyway, here’s Kazuki doing a front 1.5-in, back tuck out, which is like, T&T level nonsense. His first flip is basically laid-out, and if you scroll to the next video, he does it piked, but again, also fully laid-out in the first flip. Magic. Other clips in this little video dump? A whip half to front double double, and a whip half to front double double half-out. No. Big. Deal.

Angelina Melnikova’s English. Okay, so it’s not a gymnastics skill, but I am just so impressed with how far Angelina has come in her English-speaking journey?! She sounds so natural and confident answering questions from fans on her Instagram stories. As someone who has been speaking German for 10 years, I still get physically sick at the prospect of having to say wie geht’s to another human, so this is talent.

Jordan Chiles’ Dos Santos Rudi-out. Yeah, you read that right. Jordan posted this throwback of her training an arabian double front with one and a half twists in the second flip on Instagram this weekend to prove once and for all that she is actually Wonder Woman. Considering how easy she made a Dos Santos half-out look, is it really so surprising that she can pull off a whole extra twist into the pit?

Article by Lauren Hopkins

19 thoughts on “Around the Gymternet: It’s the F—ing Galveston Island Beach Blast

    • I just saw their new interview with Nina today…they’re clearly trying to paint such a rosy picture of everything and it’s like, it’s great that Nina has had such an incredible experience but why does no one there understand that one good experience doesn’t negate the dozens of bad? When a gymnast has to retire because she’s so anorexic she can’t even train, despite starting out such a strong and healthy athlete who could have been incredible for the program, that should be a massive red flag, especially since literally everybody knew about it. And yet no one did anything and they continue to pretend the behavior that caused it is not a problem. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s going to keep happening if they don’t address why it happened.

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    • Sporza should not be government-funded. They are miles and miles and miles away from being the independent and investigative news outlet they should be. They want to be in good graces with the athletes and federation which prevents them from publishing critical pieces. Also, their staff are mostly white, older men with a serious lack of knowledge or even interest in the issues outside of the arena/court/gym. It is freaking maddening, but it’s basically a good representation of Flemish society.

      Nina is an amazing gymnast, but she’s also quite self-centred, which is to be expected given the way she’s being treated by her coach, by the federation etc. I worked with the team in 2016 and honestly, that whole federation needs to be completely re-taught. They lack the knowledge, the vision & the insight to manage a gymnastics team. They did hire a new head of elite gymnastics, Tim Moriau, a young athletics coach, with a heavy focus on the science and the numbers behind the sport. I don’t mind his approach but it isn’t what the gymnastics team needs right now. They have the scientific data, the state-of-the-art facilities, etc. What they need is someone who understands elite gymnastics and the (emotional, physical, psychological) abuse.

      And concerning the gymnast with anorexia, I have no words. She’s a really cool and talented person, I wish she and Axelle would’ve made the switch to a different training environment years ago. It probably would’ve changed both of their lives tremendously.

      *end of rant*

      Liked by 1 person

      • (So, apparently I wasn’t done ranting)

        The ‘journalist’ in the Sporza interview with Nina is sooooo out of line, he basically agrees with Nina when she insinuates that the testimonials are exaggerated. I get why Nina does it, she doesn’t want to jeopardise her coach and her training. But the journalist, omfg, where is his professionalism?

        Liked by 1 person

      • When I first saw her in person after she had become really ill I honestly almost burst into tears out of shock and had to fight to hold back my reaction while talking to her, I was so upset, and two people related to the team I met up with shortly after were like “yeah, this is her last meet, there’s nothing anyone can do for her.” I was like what the actual fuck, especially because the last time I had seen her was only months earlier and at that point it wasn’t yet clear based on her appearance that there was anything wrong. The complete mental and physical deterioration in that short amount of time was alarming, and it’s like, yes these things happen regardless of training environments, but as soon as allegations started coming out last summer, it’s pretty clear to see the link and it just blows my mind that not one person within or related to the federation thought to get her help and instead just let her keep getting worse until she just couldn’t do gymnastics anymore. It’s appalling and absolutely should not happen at this level of elite training. I think about her all the time and my heart is just broken for her and what she must have been going through…and I agree that both she and Axelle could have had wildly different careers and lives elsewhere.

        I don’t really know anything about Sporza, and don’t think I’ve really heard of them prior to seeing this documentary, but that’s what it seems like to me so I’m glad we got that article featuring Céline coming forward to show a different side to the training center. Honestly, in the U.S. it’s similar to NBC with USA Gymnastics, and how in 2016 so many people already knew about Larry Nassar, and yet USAG was commissioning NBC to do a fluff piece about the ranch and about how amazing Martha Karolyi was…they showed the girls roasting marshmallows over a fire and laughing and having fun, but behind closed doors everyone was being abused, like??? It’s crazy how the media can be used basically as propaganda for sports federations to pretend everything is fine when the reality is much different, but thankfully now we have athletes and other people willing to go against these “official” accounts to tell the truth about what’s happening when the cameras are turned off.

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        • What’s up with Axelle? She wasn’t mentioned in the article is she? Although I think it is suspicious at least that she left after seeing the documentary.

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        • I assumed when she left that it was related to everything that was being said about the federation, though I hadn’t heard of anything specific about her…given all of the allegations and all of her struggles and injuries, when she left I just assumed she was trying to get a fresh start in a healthier environment.

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        • Axelle hasn’t yet had the opportunity to tell her story (she’s still a clear favourite to make the Olympic Team), but she’s hinted at the problematic coaching and environment in Ghent as a reason for the switch to a different training environment. She’s the single most talented tumbler and all-around gymnast Belgium has ever had, but the coaches don’t have the technical skills to assist and support that talent.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks that makes sense! I thought it was lime that, it is so horrible that they can’t speak up while they are still on teams and that’s why this culture is staying for so long! I think it’s the same in a lot of countries!

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      • Thanks for sharing! Can you maybe explain a little bit more with what you mean with the way that Nina gets treated? Is she a clear favorite?

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        • Her coach Marjorie definitely treats her like in a much more ‘adult’ way, supposedly because she’s ‘older’ than the others (which wasn’t the case until very recently, Axelle and Senna are her age). But it’s much more than that, they joke around, Marjorie teases her about her boyfriend, they have a much more relaxed rapport compared to the other gymnasts on the team. There is much more of a hierarchy, less friendly banter, less interest in their personal lives etc. Honestly, I think Marjorie is probably a pretty good coach for her ‘favourites’ (aka naturally gifted bar-workers), but she can’t seem to understand that a team consists of more than 1 or 2 star pupils. She honestly believes that many of the complaints come from disgruntled gymnasts who just couldn’t deal with the fact that they weren’t good enough to ‘make’ it.

          Liked by 1 person

      • One other question! Can you might explain what the coaching staff is lacking? Since they did manage to get a team to the olympics.

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        • In many ways, Marjorie and Yves are good coaches, but they are pretty much clueless when it comes to the mental and psychological aspect of coaching. Their background in the French system of the 90’s and early 2000s definitely contributes to their stubborn and, well, outdated approach. But the thing is that it’s not just them, the junior coach is even worse and she’s a lot younger with a supposedly more well-rounded background. While Marjorie definitely has overstepped the boundary of what’s acceptable and what’s not (and she needs to work on her childish favouritism), I really think the junior coach is doing more damage. The girls are younger, afraid/unable to speak up, and essentially their coach initially acts like she’s the supportive, trustworthy aunt but eventually turns out to be the big bad wolf. Really fucked up. Also, the Belgian Sports Committee needs to hire an independent therapist, someone who’s truly only interested in supporting and helping the gymnasts, because the psychologist they’ve got on staff now are too involved with Gymfed.

          Sigh. So much talent is just lost in the mess that this federation is. I know of one girl who, as a 10-11 year old, was just mindblowingly good, better than Nina at that age. But guess what. She goes to Gent, ends up with that bitch of a junior coach and she’s been injured and miserable for the two years she’s been there. *I CAN’T*

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  1. Anorexia or bulimia are absolutely terrible things, but at this stage of information I think it would be wiser not to direct it to (what could be … or not) abusive coachnig methods because … we don’t know ! I have been a teacher for a decade and every year I have a teen in the classroom suffering fron such disease. Usually absolutely brillant girls.

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    • Oh, I totally agree, and perhaps any athlete who develops an eating disorder would have developed it on her own in any other setting, but it’s absolutely a trigger to be in an environment where a coach is constantly calling her fat and telling her to lose weight. Maybe she was already struggling with disordered eating or bad body image or self-destructive thoughts…getting outside comments like that from someone she trusted absolutely could have made it worse and pushed her from someone with disordered eating into someone with a full-blown eating disorder.

      I struggled with disordered eating from a very young age, but it didn’t turn into an actual eating disorder until I was 15 when I was involved in a production of “Annie” where I had a director telling me I wasn’t allowed to gain weight. My disordered eating turned into anorexia (and then a lifetime of additional eating disorders) because his comment made me obsessed with not gaining weight. I don’t blame him and he didn’t “cause” my eating disorder. He made the same comment to multiple other girls who didn’t develop eating disorders, and if I hadn’t been triggered by him, I likely would have been triggered by someone or something else eventually, because I was an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist and my brain was wired to have this problem. But it was that comment at that time that flipped the switch for me, and I wish adults in positions of control over children didn’t feel like they have the authority to make comments about weight or body shape because it really does influence and hurt them. Even if this coach didn’t cause the problem and even if the coach didn’t even trigger the problem, it’s still probably best to limit the potential for these sorts of comments leading to struggles with food/eating disorders, and there is no need for a coach to be saying things like this to an athlete anyway. There are ways to talk to athlete about food and nutrition, and calling an athlete fat, kicking her out of practice for gaining 1 kg, telling her she’s not allowed to gain weight, and making other negative comments about her weight and body shape should not be allowed in the gym.

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    • When we are talking about the gymnast with anorexia, do you mean one of the member of the 2016 olympian team who competed for the last time in doha?

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